A fresh diagnosis of what ails so many places in the United States today.
In opening his run for president, Donald Trump famously declared that "the American Dream is dead." Many of his core supporters agreed and looked to him to restore it; many other voters rejected this premise, and Trump, entirely. Locating the precincts where Trump did exceptionally well and exceptionally poorly in the early 2016 primaries, Washington Examiner commentary editor Carney (Obamanomics: How Barack Obama Is Bankrupting You and Enriching His Wall Street Friends, Corporate Lobbyists, and Union Bosses, 2009, etc.) set out to discover what they had in common and thus what they might tell us about the actual health of the American dream. Synthesizing a number of sociological studies of these places, the author brushes aside the easy tropes about loss of manufacturing jobs and fear of immigrants, concluding that confidence in the dream depends on the health of a community's institutions of civil society, in particular religious groups and marriage. While elite communities have thriving social networks to support individuals and families, poorer ones depend on fraternal groups, labor unions, sports leagues, and similar volunteer organizations, many of which have withered in recent decades, particularly in areas of economic dislocation. This in turn leaves residents isolated, alienated, and distrustful. According to Carney, churches provide a low-barrier gateway to restored civic connection in a wide variety of ways, and he has the numbers to prove it. Though occasionally repetitive and dry, the author presents a sophisticated analysis that defies easy summary, using an informal style and illustrative stories about individuals and towns to draw readers along. Unfortunately, he concludes that civic alienation cannot be reversed by central government, which is often guilty of crowding out the very local institutions that are needed; it can only be cured from the grassroots up.
An approachable and incisive yet discouraging analysis with wide applicability to contemporary political and social challenges.